The Education Department is investigating six colleges and one K-12 school district over alleged antisemitic or anti-Muslim harassment amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
What You Need To Know
- The Education Department is investigating six colleges and one K-12 school district over alleged antisemitic or anti-Muslim harassment amid the war between Israel and Hamas
- The department’s Office of Civil Rights is examining whether the schools have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics
- The schools are Columbia University, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Cornell University, Lafayette College, the Maize Unified School District in Kansas, the University of Pennsylvania and Wellesley College
- Schools found violating the law and refusing to address the problems identified by the Office of Civil Rights face losing federal funding and could be referred to the Justice Department for further action.
The department’s Office of Civil Rights is examining whether the schools have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.
The schools and district under investigation are:
Columbia University in New York
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York
Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania
The Maize Unified School District in Maize, Kansas
The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts
“Hate has no place in our schools, period,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “When students are targeted because they are—or are perceived to be—Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn.”
Since the war erupted between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, President Joe Biden has vowed to take actions aimed at cracking down on antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents on campuses. The Education Department said releasing the list of schools under investigation is one part of Biden’s commitment.
Earlier this month, the Education Department warned schools in a letter that they must take immediate action to stop antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses, citing an “alarming rise” in threats and harassment.
The letter stressed that schools have a legal obligation under Title VI to provide all students with an environment free from discrimination.
All colleges and K-12 schools receiving federal funding must comply with Title VI. Those found violating the law and refusing to address the problems identified by the Office of Civil Rights face losing federal funding and could be referred to the Justice Department for further action.
Five of the complaints being investigated allege antisemitic harassment, and two allege anti-Muslim harassment, the Education Department said. It did not detail which schools face which accusations.
Spectrum News reached out to the six colleges and one school district under investigation.
Wellesley College said it is being investigated over two complaints made by the Brandeis Center, a Jewish legal rights advocacy group. The complaint cited an email sent by residential advisers and staff to students living in a dormitory that allegedly said “there should be no space, no consideration, and no support for Zionism within the Wellesley College community.” In the other complaint, Brandeis alleges, according to the school, that several Wellesley faculty members participated in a “teach-in” in which they shared with students historical context and perspective on the conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
Wellesley told Spectrum News it “responded quickly and decisively to the incident involving student leaders in a residence hall.” It also said reports from faculty who took part in the teach-in do not support allegations about the event.
“Wellesley has been committed to addressing issues of antisemitism on our campus and will continue to work to create an environment that supports free expression and rejects all forms of hate and discrimination,” a statement from the school said. It added that it welcomes the OCR’s review.
Lafayette College President Nicole Hurd said in a statement Friday the school has "not seen incidents like those that have occurred at other campuses."
"To the contrary, as recently as last week, students of differing views shared a peaceful gathering on campus to honor all those who have died in the recent violence in the Middle East," she said. "This event was typical of how our campus community has acted during this time. I have witnessed day after day during this crisis how devotedly students, faculty, staff, and administrators have worked to treat each other with care and thoughtfulness."
Hurd said the OCR has indicated its investigating alleged anti-Jewish harassment. She said "there was a problematic poster at a peaceful event on Oct. 25," which the college "quickly addressed."
The Maize Unified School District said the Department of Education notified it of the investigation but has not provided a copy of the complaint, “so we are unable to make any further comment regarding this matter.”
“Maize USD 266 takes allegations of discrimination seriously and is committed to cooperating fully with any investigation,” spokeswoman Lori Buselt said in a statement. “The school district is dedicated to providing a place for teaching and learning that prioritizes and champions respect and inclusivity and where all students and employees feel safe and valued.”
Cornell and Columbia declined to comment, but Columbia pointed to a handful of actions taken by the school since the war started, including the creation of an antisemitism task force and multiple statements issued by President Minouche Shafik condemning harassment of Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students.
The Cooper Union and Penn had not responded to requests for comment by publication of this article.
Last month, a junior at Cornell was arrested and charged with posting threats online about killing or injuring Jewish students. Among the threats, Patrick Dai, 21, allegedly posted he was “gonna shoot up” the school’s Kosher dining hall. In another post, he vowed to “slit the throat” of any Jewish males he saw on campus, rape Jewish women and throw them off a click and behead Jewish babies, according to federal prosecutors.
At The Cooper Union, some Jewish students barricaded themselves inside the school’s library last month as pro-Palestinian protesters outside banged on the building’s doors and windows.
Note: This article was updated to include a new statement by Lafayette College President Nicole Hurd.